Category Archives: Politics

Reagan and the Afghan Resistance

From the archives – while researching for Wounds, we came across this Reagan dedication of the space shuttle, Columbia, to the Afghan resistance. Enjoy!

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Wikileaks: US cables on Pakistan

Jinnah Hospital Under Attack

12:36am –Jinnah Hospital in Lahore is under attack from approximately 5 militants who entered the ER. 13 people dead so far. Jinnah is significant because the Ahmadi-Muslims injured in the Friday attacks are patients there; the militant arrested from that attack was also in intensive care at Jinnah.

Ahmadis are Muslim

and it’s called a MOSQUE. Ninety-three people have died thus far; at least have the courage to be straightforward now: They were Muslims. Their died in their mosques.

I. War in a New York minute

While some early reports claimed that it was NYC (attempted) car bomber Faisal Shahzad’s wife and parents or his relatives who were picked up from Karachi where they had been residing, other news now suggests that anywhere between five to eight men were arrested in connection with the Times Square car bomb attempt. One of the men detained in Karachi may be his father-in-law; Shahzad’s parents meanwhile left their Peshawar home once they learned of their son’s arrest. The family was seen leaving their well-to-do home in Hayatabad. Two of the men have reportedly been identified as Tauhid Ahmed and Muhammad Rehan who says he travelled with Shahzad to Peshawar where they stayed for about two weeks in July.Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik claims that no arrests have been made in connection with this case, but some people are being detained for questioning. Rehman also said that no official request has been made by the US, but Pakistan intends to cooperate fully.

Shahzad is the son of  retired air vice-marshal and deputy director general of the civil aviation authority, Baharul Haq. Shahzad’s cousin, Kifayat Ali expressed disbelief about the former’s arrest, according to al-Jazeera

“This is a conspiracy so the [Americans] can bomb more Pashtuns,” Ali said, referring to a major ethnic group in Peshawar and the nearby tribal areas of Pakistan and southwest Afghanistan.

Family members in the family’s village of Mohib Banda, near Pabbi in Nowshera district echoed Ali’s denial about their relative. Another cousin, Sameerul Haq also charged conspiracy and reportedly said Shahzad had gone to the US for the sole purpose of studying. A villager who claimed to be Shahzad’s childhood friend told the News, “I don’t think Faisal had links with any militant group.” Interviews conducted with relatives and those familiar with Shahzad by the AP had similar findings.

Earlier this morning, when I visited North Nazimabad, a relatively quiet, upper middle class neighborhood of Karachi, neighbors were tight-lipped. Sources claim that the detentions of people from Nazimabad were made by military intelligence, not the local police. I was told that officials dressed in civilian clothing came looking for people connected with Faisal Shahzad and enquired about Shahzad in the neighborhood. If true, the involvement of military intelligence in these detentions poses some serious problems: the establishment is well-known for disappearing people. Jeremy Schahill raises concerns on the American side where American intelligence planes may have been used to locate Shahzad. The trouble with this, explains Scahill is that:

If true, that could mean that secretive programs such as “Power Geyser” or “Granite Shadow,” remain in effect. These were the unclassified names for reportedly classified, compartmentalized programs under the Bush administration that allegedly gave US military special forces sweeping authority to operate on US soil in cases involving WMD incidents or terror attacks.

See Scahill’s full post here.

[Post in progress...]

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Constitutional changes; Pak Army kills Pakistanis

OrakzaiSix people were killed in the earliest fall-out from the 18th Amendment now making its way through Pakistan’s Parliament. The bill, which makes major changes to the constitution sparked protests among ethnic Hazara for one of its amendments: changing the name of Pakistan’s North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) –so named by British Lord Curzon in 1901 when he formed the province–to the Kyber Pakhtunkwa province after the dominant ethnic Pashtun majority there.

Even as the country is poised for significant changes, Pakistan’s Army killed literally hundreds this last week. Approximately 60 civilians were killed when Pakistani fighter jets dropped bombs in Khyber Agency in Fata. The initial attack was on Hameed Gul’s house and it killed 3 children and 2 women. This is what happened next:

“After 10 minutes of the bombardment when the villagers and labourers working on nearby water channel approached the house to retrieve the bodies, the fighter jets again bombed the house killing and injuring more than 150 people,” Sadiq Khan, an injured and eyewitness, told this scribe in the Civil Hospital Jamrud.

In case you find the second bombing confusing, please note that the same tactic was seen in the leaked Wikileaks video of American soldiers firing on Iraqis followed by a second round of killing when a van showed up to help the injured. And, it’s often used by Israelis in occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Another 54 people were killed in Orakzai which the Army claims were militants.

Meanwhile the 18th Amendment abolishes changes made by Paksitani autocrats over the years to accrue greater powers to the President. The amendment devolves greater authority to the provinces, reserves a few seats for non-Muslim members in the Senate and makes it a crime for the High Court to validate acts that abrogate the Constitution in the future. These changes come roughly a year after the success of the lawyers’ movement and David Kilcullen’s pronouncements that Pakistan had only six months left to survive.

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‘Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards.’

A release by that awesome website, Wikileaks showing American troops targeting civilians in Iraq:

The full set of documents along with a transcript of this video can be seen here. Glenn Greenwald and others debate the video on MSNBC:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

screengrab from Wikileaks "Collateral Murder"

screengrab from Wikileaks "Collateral Murder"

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Left of the Taliban

make left signA critique of the Left from the Left. With the encouragement of friends, I’m posting an email below that I wrote regarding a recent controversy on the Left involving former Guantanomo detainee and human rights activist, Moazzam Begg and head of Amnesty International’s gender unit, Gita Sahgal. The debate exposes a larger division on the Left about where it stands with respect to the global war. The incident that sparked the larger discussion began when Sahgal accused Amnesty of tarnishing its human rights work by collaborating with Begg and the organization with which he works, Cage Prisoners. Begg is a Taliban supporter and Cage Prisoners a “jihadi” organization according to Sahgal, and Amnesty damages its reputation by working with them. Following Sahgal’s public remarks, Amnesty suspended her. Some have taken the view that Sahgal is an upstanding activist wrongly penalized by Amnesty while others argue that she is leveraging rampant Islamophobia for her ends.

The disagreement operates along a deepening fault-line in the Left that has wider implications. Many liberals and leftist allies (who support Sahgal) accuse the anti-imperial Left of egregious silence on the issue of the Taliban while it criticizes America’s imperial wars. Charges of insufficient critique of the Taliban and criminal silence on their atrocities are being hurled with increasing ferocity at Pakistani leftists in particular. Those making the accusations include Pakistani liberals as well as those who in the past have been our international allies in South Asia and elsewhere.

The email below is my response to this debate on a particular listserve. I’ve edited it to excise sections particular to an internal debate as well as to keep identities private but kept the rest in tact in the hopes of having a wider discussion.

****

Dear X,

….

The larger issue, however, is this: why do our so-called allies constantly demand that we articulate our disavowal of the Taliban? Do they perhaps believe that in some deep dark religious corner of our lefty Pakistani hearts, we nurture a secret love for the ruthless brutish bearded circus called the Taliban?  Why are we being constantly asked to prove our bona fides as secularists and as humanists (in the sense that we believe in the dignity of *all* humanity)?  And that too by those who appear to have little qualms about retracting dignity from a man whose words and appearance unsettle us but who has done nothing – in terms of his actions – but run a girls’ school in Afghanistan and, now, defend the rights of precisely those that the American empire has reduced to ‘bare life.’ [1]  Does the problem lie in the fact that he “has championed the rights of jailed Al-Qaeda members and hate preachers…” as the Sunday Times puts it? But isn’t the selective granting of rights precisely what the Left is critical of in general?  Or is it that he stated in his memoirs that the Taliban were “better than anything Afghanistan has had in the past twenty-five years.” Yes, these views are abhorrent, but by no means unique. I heard much the same thing from the Afghans I met when I traveled to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border town of Chaman (in Balochistan) over a month ago.  These were Afghans who all hated the Taliban now (among them were ex-Taliban fighters).  To them, the Taliban had seemed like an answer to the corruption, chaos and random murders that had afflicted Afghanistan for decades when they first rose to power. They left when they realized that this was not the case or that the price they were being asked to pay was too high.

If one really wants to understand the Taliban – something that seems to preoccupy our allies – then one should be willing to listen to exactly these kinds of problematic statements in order to figure out what’s going on.  Ultimately, what is Begg’s crime? What has he done other than human rights work? It’s exactly what the Left would approve of if it did not originate from these quarters.  And what of the American Empire that spouts democratic principles while breaking arms, twisting necks and torturing people like Begg who are a little too “Muslim” in the last instance to acquire the affections of the Left?

In Chaman, our cell phone reception ceased one fine morning. That’s common there; it’s how one knows that the armies are amassing on the border – the Americans on the one side, the Pakistanis on the other.  Thus are great games played.  Meanwhile, the people of Chaman have no hot water and live without electricity for most of the day, save a couple of hours.  It’s freezing cold in the morning.

The relationship of the army to the state and to ordinary Pakistanis is at its most explicit in Balochistan.  Here, it openly intercepts, snatches, manipulates and leaves the locals to quibble over the leftovers.  The army ‘bought’ land in Balochistan at Rs1.50 per acre.  It is building garrisons and cantonments. Take a look at the map to see where these are: not in the Pashtun belt along the north where the Taliban are reputed to be but rather in the tribal areas near gas reserves, copper, ore, gold mines. Go to the Quetta cantonment and see the level of obscene opulence in which army officers live – chandeliers and fine drawing rooms in a province that is by far the poorest in Pakistan and even lacks roads and running water in parts.  The highest levels of food insecurity in Pakistan are to be found in Balochistan. The problem in Chaman where the Taliban roam is not so much them as their drugs – it’s a drug-addicted town.  Who lets them in? Why, the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) which controls the border.  And they hold the final levers to the Taliban too; everybody knows it: the Rand Corporation’s Christine Fair has written of it, the NYT has written of it, the LWJ has written of it, so has the scholar Ayesha Siddiqua, and the army has occasionally attempted to run her out of town for it. The relationship between the FC and the religious extremists is an old one dating back to the Cold war when the American and Pakistani establishments deemed it worthwhile to create this religious Frankenstein’s monster.  Today, America is providing training to this same force, and pumping billions to it.  And so we come full circle.

In Balochistan, the army uses the Taliban to suppress the local Baloch nationalist movement that is threatening secession.  When Musharraf hunted and killed the Baloch nationalist leader Akbar Bugti in 2006, he justified it by instrumentally (and falsely) accusing Bugti of having dealings with al-Qaeda – laughable if one knows that the Baloch movement is secular with shades of Marxism.  Also, the US is still using religious extremism by many accounts, using the Baloch Sunni group, Jundallah, to launch attacks into neighboring Shia Iran.

In Swat, which I also visited following the army attack there, people are scared witless of both the Taliban and the army.  I traveled beyond Mingora to Matta where fighting had been heaviest.  Along the way, one alternatively sees bombed out schools (the work of the Taliban) and the rubble of houses (the work of the army).  There are army checkpoints every 10 minutess or so, but there is no rebuilding going on.  And when we speak with Swatis, they express their hatred of the Taliban but also without fail say that the Taliban got away and the wrong people were killed – namely, those who didn’t have the money to run elsewhere or to get out. The IDPs were the lucky ones. This was the third – not the first – army attack on Swat in the last few years and Swatis told us of having passed on information about the location of Taliban fighters in the vicinity only to have the army bomb elsewhere or of army and Taliban checkpoints within a few feet of each other.  For years, while the same liberal Pakistanis – who today cheer on the army as a bulwark against the Taliban – were busy navel-gazing, Swatis were attempting to raise their own militias to fight the Taliban in the absence of state help, only to be told by the local authorities to lay down their arms.

Now as attacks on ‘mainland’ Pakistan increase, the liberals have suddenly discovered their love of human rights (for certain humans), represented by a fear of the Taliban and a love of the army.  These are the same liberal Pakistanis who have not cared enough to do anything about the far more insidious manner in which a public culture of religiosity has taken over in Pakistan except when it interferes with their narrow and decidedly elite preoccupations.  After Swat, I spent a long evening in Islamabad with a Pakistani personality and other assorted liberals discussing the army attack on Swat and the Taliban threat.  It was good and necessary, he said.  We all knew the army had ties to the Taliban, so I asked him how it was that he expected the army to exterminate those it finds useful? He may not have trusted the army or the government in the past, but he trusted them now, he replied.  He admitted that he could point to nothing that justified this change of heart, but yet somehow he ‘had faith.’ And that’s all the Pakistani Army requires: ‘faith, unity and discipline.’ [2]

Religious extremism was and is fed by the billions in arms sales and funding by the US to the Pakistani military as well as by the drone attacks, the incursions on Pakistani sovereignty, and the American-led reinforcement of the Pakistani army.  Thus when we talk about the army, we are talking about the Taliban.  When we talk about the imperial war, the drone attacks, the military funding, we are talking about the Taliban.  All we are saying is stop focusing on the Taliban egg alone while the imperial hen runs out and lays a dozen more.  Talking about the Taliban outside of the context of this history and this present context makes no sense.  If there’s a cogent argument about why/how one can end the Taliban – indeed, religious militancy in Pakistan more generally – without dealing with the American imperium or its arm, the Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies, then please put it out here. But enough of the faith-based initiatives, and the requirement that those of us who are talking about imperialism must present our anti-Taliban credentials in order to be allowed into the club of true Lefties. It’s a silly and pointless game at this late stage when the American war is expanding into Pakistan.

in solidarity -m

1. Giorgio Agamben. State of Exception. University of Chicago Press, 2005.

2. State emblem that has become synonymous with the Army.

cross-posted here.

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Gwadar Dreams (with photos)

A small fishing town, Gwadar has become synonymous with the aspirational city that the government of Pakistan hopes to build. The area, which is being billed as the-next-Dubai-only-better, was bought by Pakistan from the Sultan of Muscat and Oman in 1958. Here’s the story from Time that same year.

Today, it’s home to a strategically located deep sea warm water port that has the potential to become central to trade and energy politics in the Middle East as well as Central and South Asia. The port however is one part of a master plan to entirely re-develop Gwadar City into a tourist and trade zone complete with boating clubs, a sports complex, a flying club, and a free trade zone for industry. Gwadar as it exists recedes into the shadows of the dreams of its planners.

Progress. For Gwadar’s dreamers, development is as inevitable as the onward march of history. It’s happening, indeed, has already happened. The sports complex is empty, the technical institute is empty, the port runs only occasionally because the government is subsidizing it, but for its planners, the idea of Gwadar redeems the massive influx of capital and questionable failure. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea — something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to.

I quote Conrad because that’s what looped endlessly in my mind as I saw the grand plan, the rubble, the maps, the voluble genial men of ideas.

But what about the local fishermen?

They have dreams of their own, and they do not include a sports complex or commercial high rises. They have been seamen and fishermen their entire lives, but working at the port requires certificates that are difficult to acquire. Many of them are largely uneducated and lack the technical skills that will be needed to run a port. While the GDA (Gwadar Development Authority) is building a technical institute which may approximately take 300 people, it’s yet to be functional. The GDA has also built a fish harbour (in the video below where the fisherman is cleaning his catch). It’s straight across from the port. While I’m no planner, I do wonder what will happen if the port does actually become functional in the way that the government forsees: won’t hundreds of ships docking, trading, bringing cargo, dirty the waters? oil spills? change the ecology of the area? Won’t the free trade industrial zone do the same? Won’t the tourism?

Gwadar-the-idea caters to the elite habit, not just the economic class. Being elite, after all, isn’t simply about money; it’s also a habit. Leisure activities and interests are all influenced by that mode of being, and that is to what the master plan caters.  What, after all, will a fisherman, who has been out at sea for most of the day, want with a boating club or water sports? Both economically and culturally, they will be locked out of their own land. ‘Development’, ‘progress’, ‘modernization’ is a savage phenomenon. A series of violent ruptures rather than a process. Force and resistance. In May 2004, three Chinese engineers working on the port were killed by a bomb. In 2006, the inauguration of the first phase of the port by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao couldn’t go ahead due to security concerns. When Prime Minister Gilani did come this December, the locals reportedly observed a shutter-down strike.

Never mind the locals. If you build it, they will come.

Except that they haven’t. The port, which was leased to the PSA (Port of Singapore Authority), the third largest port running company, has failed to attract ships. It blames the Pakistani government for not having built the network of roads and railways it promised in its contract with the PSA. The government says the PSA could still have attracted ships to dock there on their way elsewhere. In order to make the port operational, the government has redirected some of its own ships to dock there rather than in Karachi. And to make that feasible, it subsidized trucks to travel to Gwadar from Karachi to pick up the cargo and take it wherever it needs to go. All that cost about 2bn rupees last year.

Perhaps that’s why the government is so tetchy about foreign journalists coming to the area. Everybody I spoke with told me that I should be sure that the intelligence agencies knew exactly where I was and what I was doing. It wasn’t a question I’d asked. They simply volunteered the information as part of the interview.

But, back to PM Gilani for a moment, who did come. He showed up in Gwadar with his cabinet, about 200 government officials, and a media entourage on Dec 30th to hold a cabinet meeting on a Navy ship docked in the Gwadar port. The 2-day affair cost the federal government 5 million rupees, easily making it the most expensive cabinet meeting in the country’s history.

The objective for the meeting was to sign the new NFC (National Finance Commission) Award which uses an improved formula to decide on budget distribution for the the four provinces. Balochistan has long held that the single-factor, population formula discriminates against the province without looking at other indicators such as poverty.

So, to recap: in order to sign off on a slightly fairer NFC Award to give some more money to the poorest province, the federal government spent 5 million rupees on itself.

And, oh yeah, the meeting took place 10 days after Gilani’s own government had introduced austerity measures.

I’m shocked I tell you. Just shocked.

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